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Archive for November, 2013

I wrote a post on this topic before (found here), but was prompted to revisit this topic in a discussion today and thought I’d add my thoughts here as a reminder that amateur rugby should not be taken too seriously. At the level most of us are at, why not try the unorthodox regularly? It’s not as if coach / player careers hang in the balance. I’ve been reading a lot recently about fostering creativity, and yet most of what I see is pretty orthodox. I’m currently working with an academy side and am getting those familiar looks when someone tries something different, worried that I’m going to shout them down, but the reaction they typically get from me is one of encouragement or, at worst, did you consider the better options first? In such instances, I’ve been throwing more pressure on supporting players, because in high pressure situations ball carriers don’t always have the time to assess all their options (especially Canadians whose experience with the game is quite minimal compared to other countries where guys have been playing for more than a decade once they get to ‘academy’ age). I preach simple rugby, but have no problem with trying the unorthodox under the right conditions.

Early in my coaching career I was in charge of a U18 team (at just 20 years old) and we had some crazy plays that we did up just for fun. We were a high flying team that shocked bigger clubs by playing off the cuff and with a lot of fun. In playoffs, we met one of those who’d been knocked off their perch, but we learned they’d be dressing five provincial players who weren’t in the early encounter. We were down four tries at half and I reminded the guys to just go out there and have fun, play our style and not worry about the opposition. In the second half, our ambition in attack shocked them as it had in the league fixture and while we didn’t score until it was too late, we held them to no scores as we dominated possession and stayed in their territory with ball in hand. It was many years ago, but I’m certain we attempted a few things that we hadn’t before as our entire midfield were fly halves for their respective schools and loved the chip kick.

And speaking of the unorthodox, our try was scored off of one of those ‘silly’ plays. Scrum just outside of the 15m hash on the right, about 30m from goal. We stack most backs on the right side, with the left wing standing almost on the touch line and the full back directly behind the scrum. Ball goes right, fly half puts a huge cross kick toward the posts and about 20m deep. Our full back takes a huge leap and grabs it, draws both their fb and wing and fires a pass to our isolated wing for a try even the other team admitted was fantastic in the post-match get together.

It’s always reminded me that we’re out here to have fun first and while these days I don’t waste a lot of time on set piece moves at training, my players pretty much have the green light to do anything they want so long as their team mates are aware of the decision and that it makes sense given the conditions. I preach simple rugby, but when the simple stuff isn’t helping against a really tough team, then why not pull something out of the bag of tricks? Even just once or twice, and their defensive pressure might relax, not knowing when we’ll try again, and thus allowing us to go back to the simple stuff with defenders who are now second guessing.

What really angers me, though, is when teams go for the ‘orthodox’ all the time and either miss clear opportunities or do so in the face of what’s not been working. How often do you see teams slow down a penalty when the quick tap is on?  Another example: a rare shouting moment for me when our team kicked for touch on a penalty, into a stiff breeze (only gained 8m), and when our lineout success rate was 50% at best. We also had dominance with ball in hand. Previous coaches – and some from the national and provincial level! – had drilled into them to do the orthodox. Same goes for kicking from inside 22m. I was pleased to see our club’s U16s yesterday back their superior talent and run one from their own goal line for a wonderful try … yet I seemed to be the only one applauding it with gusto.

Unfortunately, a lot of coaches create an environment that doesn’t allow “50/50” play – and I get that many don’t want players to take silly risks – but they risk establishing a sense of fear in their players that prevents them from playing ambitious rugby. Instead, run scenarios that permit all kinds of possibilities (ex. Run a full team lineout in your 22 and condition the defence to give them a variety of looks) and help players with decision making based upon what they see and what their strengths and limitations are. I’m especially vocal about freedom the ‘green zone’ – which is sometimes, quite bafflingly referred to as the ‘red zone’ by even some pro teams – about 30m from the opposition try line. I pretty much allow any logical move in that area because the rewards outweigh the risks. Throw all the backs into a move, try a massive maul, have a drop at goal when the defence is tight, chip to the corner when we might have a 1 v 1 advantage, etc. etc. I also feel that at various levels of play, it’s easier to defend the orthodox and after a half dozen phases the attacking team is more likely to knock on, infringe at the break down or simply get in each other’s way.

Why not be more ambitious and have fun rather that do the ‘safe’ thing all the time? In future, no one will remember the try that came from 8 pick and goes and a centre crash, but players will still be talking about that huge cross kick or falling no-look offload to a trailing forward into their old age.

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The following was written by a friend of mine, who spent the summer working for Rugby Canada as an intern. Ryan Surgenor has had overseas experience playing rugby, is studying TV production at college and is a regular colour commentator for Rogers Cable in Ottawa. What he offers are suggestions on what players who aspire to compete at a higher level can do to sell their talents to coaches. As this blog is largely aimed at coaches, I’d say there are some great tips here to support your players’ goals if you have any game film to lend them / skills to help them editing.  These tips would also be useful when putting together clips for your players to analyse.

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So you want to make a highlight video?  First you need to decide what is the purpose of your video, whether it is just for entertainment or for coaches to look at. There are a few things you need to include in the video in order to make it effective.

First up is attacking talent. For most coaches this is the first thing they look for in a video of a player. This gives them an idea of your athleticism and what level of athlete you are. Many people make the mistake of just including tries and huge runs. Those two things are definitely a huge part of attacking ability but do not give the coaches a well-rounded perspective on your athletic ability.

Some things to include in the attack category:

·         Offloads: this gives coaches the insight into your ability to control the ball in the tackle. A valuable skill that is really hard to coach.

·         Varied types of passing: Show multiple instances of your ability to change your type of pass given the situation. Gives a good indication of your overall skill level. Typical passes to include:

  • Spin pass
  • Pop pass
  • Pops from the ground
  • Switch passes
  • Touch passes

·         Foot work: As long as the footwork does not have a negative result it is a good addition. Just because you did not score a try does not mean it was not an impressive display. You could have put the defense on the back foot. Or forced a 2 or 3 v 1 tackle situation.

·         Running through gaps: Just like footwork, even if you did not score, it shows your ability to create line breaks.

·         Set up for a big play: if you do have an outstanding play that you are a part of, it is really helpful to provide context to the play. If you score off first phase in a lineout, show your positioning in relation to the ball.  Show how you set yourself in a position to make that big play.

·         Support running: showing that you are able to track a play and provide either offload support or rucking support demonstrates your awareness in the game.

Now that you’ve displayed your power on one side of the ball, now you have a chance to display your talents on defense. An important part of this section is to give the viewer a proper context for your plays. Its all fine and good that you managed to blow out a ruck on defense, but if you also include you getting back into the play after that event. It will increase the impression you leave on the viewer.

Some often forgotten aspects of defensive highlights:

·         What happens after the tackle: showing yourself making a good tackle is key. What comes after the tackle is almost more important. Make sure to show you rolling away after you make the tackle, or even better show you getting to your feet and providing pressure on the defense. Just make sure to pick clips that show off your ability to avoid getting penalties.

·         Defensive rucking: show the strength you have off the ball.  It lets the viewer know that if there is a call to be made for a counter ruck then you are a clear candidate for that call.

·         Include clips of defensive set up: This is a minor inclusion that leaves that extra impression upon an evaluator. Show yourself moving closer to a ruck if you are a forward, or calling the defense out if you are a back. If you are a 9 or 15 try and include audio of you directing people around.

·         Key actions in a turnover: If you were the guy to blow out a ruck, or hold a guy up in a maul be sure to include that. Not only does it give the impression of skill and strength but also knowledge of the game’s laws.

Lastly you should highlight position specific skills. These clips should show your ability to use the skills for certain positions well and with good results. Be careful not to show the same action over and over again. (Unless that skills major aspect is consistency, like kicking or lineout throws).

Of course each position has their specific skills. I will highlight a few for each position to give an idea of what to look for:

·         Tight head prop and Loose head prop

  • Scrummaging against different sized opponents
  • Winning scrums against the head
  • Boosting in the lineout
  • Driving in a maul. (show the impact you have, not the whole drive)
  • Tackles at the side of the ruck

·         Hooker

  • Lineout throws (both consistency and variation is types of throws)
  • Passing from the base of a ruck
  • Controlling the ball at the back of a maul
  • Successful strikes at ball in a scrum.
  • Stolen scrums where you can see your contribution

·         Locks

  • Ball control in the air
  • Blowing out rucks
  • Boosting
  • Speed from scrum to rucks

·         Back row

  • Speed from scrum to ruck
  • Any actions in the lineout
  • Ability to steal ball at the breakdown
  • ALL FORWARDS (editor contribution):  demonstrating ability to carry the ball and retain possession, as well as getting into good supporting positions from phase to phase.  Be careful to highlight carrying clips which have an impact on the play, as some ball-carrying forwards have a tendency to go off on their own or pick and go when there were better options available.

·         Scrum half

  • Passing from the back of the scrum and rucks
  • Sniping runs from the back of rucks
  • Passing – both consistency and varied types of
  • Long phases of play where you made it to each breakdown
  • Ability to direct forwards during phase play
  • Tracking of line breaks and tactical kicks, sweeping behind the main line in defence
  • Kicks – specifically box kicks and maybe penalties

·         Fly-half

  • Ability to take and create space
  • Ability to manage a team in attack, direction of phase play
  • Kicking (goal, tactical, strategic)
  • Passing ability
  • Defensive ability, including covering back after kicking

·         Centres

  • Ability to take and create space
  • Ability to put supporting players into space
  • Open field tackles and defensive coordination
  • Kick chases

·         Wings

  • Catching high ball, support for full back
  • Footwork and ability to finish moves
  • Tactical kicks when isolated
  • 1 v 1 tackles out wide
  • Chasing kicks

·         Fullback

  • Clearance kicks, tactical kicks
  • Catching under the high ball
  • Wide passes
  • Counter attack
  • Defensive positioning and control of the back three

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